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<a novref=true text=@key href=pattern-characters.html>Characters</a>


Abstract representations of persons in a game.

Many games let players control game elements that represent people or creatures that act in the Game World. When these people or creatures have characteristics not directly shown in the Game World that can change during gameplay, these game elements have an abstract element called Character.

Example: Roleplaying games let each player control a character, and one of the main types of achievement in the games is to raise the character's level, stats, or skills.

Example: Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory is a first-person shooter where players have characters that can develop between levels by gaining experience points in various skills.

Using the pattern

The design of use of Characters in games can either be on the level of creating explicit characters or by creating rules for how players can create their own Characters. Independent of how Characters are created, the game designer can choose whether Character Development should be possible and if players should be able to affect it. Allowing players control over Character Development increases Freedom of Choice as well as creates Planned Character Development, which is a form of Investment. This planning offers players the chance of Varied Gameplay by making use of New Abilities to instantiate potential Orthogonal Unit Differentiation. Planned Character Development gives the possibility for Team Development in games with Team Play. However, unless games make use of Game Masters, this kind of Freedom of Choice regarding Characters may be difficult to combine with Narrative Structures.

Creating complete Characters lets them fit within an Alternative Reality and allows personalized and unique Avatars for each Character. In games with Combat or Overcome goals between the players, pre-created Characters can be extensively play-tested to ensure Player Balance. The use of pre-created Characters is common in games either where Character Development is not a large part of gameplay or where the Character, and any Character Development, is closely tied to a tightly controlled Narrative Structure.

Typical ways of letting players create Characters are based around Randomness or Budgeted Action Points. These are in turn used to determine the many various characteristics possible: the Handle that identifies the character to other players; number values that represent physical or mental abilities or status of measurements such as Lives, health, and fatigue; Skills that affect the likelihood of succeeding with actions and may give Privileged Abilities such as being a Producer that can create Renewable Resources; advantages, disadvantages, quirks, or other ways of describing character traits and motivating initial Decreased Abilities, Improved Abilities, or Privileged Abilities; worldly possessions and equipment that represents Resources or Tools; and occupations, social statuses, and social networks that define the characters place in the Game World. In games with Avatars, some of these characteristics are usually cosmetic. The variety of values associated with Characters then open up for the range of Rewards, such as Improved Abilities through raised Skills, and Penalties, such as Decreased Abilities through received Damage, that can occur during gameplay.

When players have rules for creating Characters, this gives them Freedom of Choice and Creative Control depending on the level of Randomness involved in the process, but this increases the possibilities for Identification and Immersion through Emotional Immersion in all cases. The personalization possible also allows players to construct Player Defined Goals for their Characters as they are created, and can give them the Illusion of Influence over how the Narrative Structure will develop. However, with a larger amount of Freedom of Choice regarding the character creation process, the problem of fitting or adjusting the character to an integral role in a Narrative Structure increases also. This problem can be mitigated by the presence of Dedicated Game Facilitators that can perform Negotiation to make the Character suitable to the planned events in the game or modify the Narrative Structure to fit the Character.


Characters provide games with points for Identification and through these points Emotional Immersion, which can strengthen the impact of, and widen the range of, Penalties usable in the game, especially in the case of Persistent Game Worlds. The presence of Characters also allows more detailed Enemies and richer Narrative Structure where social relationships and Character Development can be important components. This is especially true in cases where Roleplaying the Characters or Storytelling about the Characters is possible.

In games with Game Worlds, Characters form links between abstract game state values and concrete game state values through their connection to Avatars. When no concrete Game World exists, Characters take the role of Focus Loci in replacement of Avatars.

In Multiplayer Games, having Characters with different Privileged Abilities allows Orthogonal Unit Differentiation and lets players specialize in different Competence Areas. However, the differences in abilities may cause Player Balance to be disrupted.


Instantiates: Competence Areas, Emotional Immersion, Investments, Focus Loci, Illusion of Influence, Identification, Creative Control, Immersion, Enemies, Orthogonal Unit Differentiation, Player Defined Goals, Narrative Structures

Modulates: Avatars, Multiplayer Games, Player Balance, Alternative Reality, Varied Gameplay, Roleplaying

Instantiated by:

Modulated by: Damage, Penalties, Planned Character Development, Producers, Resources, Budgeted Action Points, Decreased Abilities, Improved Abilities, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Renewable Resources, Persistent Game Worlds, Rewards, Lives, Tools, Skills, Privileged Abilities, Storytelling, New Abilities, Character Development, Randomness, Handles, Freedom of Choice, Game Masters

Potentially conflicting with:

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(C) Æliens 04/09/2009

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